News & Opinion

All eyes on PGA Tour … but from a distance

Travelers Championship - Preview Day 3
A PGA Tour event, such as the recent Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., can be a lonely place these days, with only players, caddies and a few officials on hand.

John Hawkins contends that it’s much too soon to ban fans for the rest of the season on the PGA Tour, but Mike Purkey counters that we’ve seen enough so heed 'an abundance of caution'

Hawk & Purk Podcast Hero Article

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on MorningRead.com, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Having reversed its decision to allow fans on the grounds next week at the Memorial, should the PGA Tour scrap the idea of admitting spectators in 2020 altogether?

Hawk’s take: It’s too early to make that call, nor is there any need to. This is the ultimate fluid situation, and though it involves the health and safety of many people, landing prematurely on the side of caution defeats the purpose of acting cautiously. Another thing to consider: the U.S. Open and Masters do not fall under PGA Tour jurisdiction, meaning the decision to include the public at those events rests with the USGA and Augusta National membership, respectively.

The Masters is still four months away. We could be living in a very different social environment by then. You can’t tell ticket holders not to come, then change your mind a few weeks before the tournament starts because things are better than they were in July. That creates a whole different set of problems, so the smart play here is to wait. There is nothing to be gained by acting impetuously, especially at the majors, which people are more likely to travel a lengthy distance to attend.

We’re obviously looking at a different scenario with the Tour, which has to make determinations on a weekly basis regarding events in various parts of the country. Onsite revenue means little or nothing to Camp Ponte Vedra, which collects most of its money from title sponsors and television networks. That said, golf tournaments are a lot more fun to watch on TV when people are on the property, watching them in person.

A better competitive atmosphere, more drama and emotion… You don’t want to give up those qualities any sooner than logic requires.

Purk’s take: When Webb Simpson withdrew from the Travelers Championship after a family member had tested positive for COVID-19, the PGA Tour said he did so out of “an abundance of caution.” That phrase has become the principle on which the Tour has operated since resuming play five weeks ago.

It’s why the Tour decided to reverse its original plan to have spectators at next week’s Memorial Tournament. The Tour, in concert with local health officials, decided the risk of spreading coronavirus was too great, even with 8,000 people on the grounds of Muirfield Village Golf Club, which would have been about 20 percent of a typical Memorial crowd.

It’s also why the Tour should just go ahead and mandate that the rest of the events on the 2020 schedule be played without fans. Look, this is not ideal, and we all know it. But when you weigh having spectators against what would happen if an outbreak occurred at a Tour event, the choice is obvious.

The PGA Tour has done an incredible job in bringing live golf into our homes during this impossibly difficult time. And it has done so with rigorous and detailed precautions. But you can’t control what you can’t control. And spectators – even a few thousand – would be beyond the Tour’s reach, even with the best-laid plans.

None of us wants the Tour to shut down. And the biggest risk comes with spectators. It’s simply an abundance of caution.

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